Daniel Black at Community High School goes to state science fair

Barbara Hootman

Daniel Black can't remember a day that he wasn't interested in science. Now that fascination has propelled the Community High School student into a state science fair for high school students.

Black won the right to attend the competition in Raleigh March 27-28 by placing second in the senior technology engineering category at a recent regional science fair at Western Carolina University. He may well be the first Community High School student to participate in the science fair. His coach believes he was the only student from Buncombe County to compete.

Black is taking on stiffer competition in Raleigh because of his work with a material called Aerogel. He was playing around with it one day and thought it should be the basis of his entry into the science fair.

In its earliest days, Aerogel was marketed as a thickening agent. Makers of insulation, cigarette filters, even cosmetics, used it. The material fell out of favor with manufacturers in the 1970s but became attractive again when its production was made less complicated and dangerous. Space agencies and makers of silicon and home building products have incorporated it in their products. Its popularity has been hindered by cost, but now there is a push to produce it more cost effectively.

Black, working on his Aerogel project since November, thoroughly researched its physical properties and attempted to produce it in Community High School's science lab School. For the competition in Raleigh, he will compare its insulating properties to those inside a vacuum insulation chamber.

"It's more or less tweaking it for more competition," he said of changes he will make. "It is a refining process more than making any big changes. There have been lots of challenges in getting the project to where it is today. Some things just didn't turn out like they were supposed to, and I would have to start over and make a new batch."

Much of the expense of the project has come out of his pocket and that of his coach and science teacher at Community High School, Summer Kirkpatrick. The Black Mountain Rotary Club helped with some of the expenses, for which student and teacher are grateful.

"I could use a sponsor," Black said. "It would make things easier."

Kirkpatrick is proud of him and his achievements.

"It has been exciting to have Daniel as a student," she said. "He has such a strong sense of curiosity, the kind that makes a scientist really great."